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Liverpool fixture congestion presents serious conundrum

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While many folks were still catching their breath, the wild Liverpool win over Arsenal on penalties in the EFL Cup two days ago caused a number of executives and officials to groan.

Jurgen Klopp brought Liverpool’s fixture congestion issue to the forefront with his surprising threat on Wednesday that the club could pull out of the EFL Cup. While that remains highly unlikely, the problem for the Reds is real, and lots of shuffling will likely have to happen for the Reds to fulfill all its commitments this season.

With lots of possibilities thrown into the air of late, here is a breakdown of where the club currently stands.

Current commitments

“You go through the fixture list, trying to fit in the Carabao Cup game and go ‘wow!'” Klopp said in his press conference on Friday. “There’s a long way to go, problems to sort and a lot of yards to run. But it’s the basis we’ve created and it’s a lot better than we could have expected, points-wise.”

Liverpool is at the moment locked into a significant number of commitments. Here is where they stand in all competitions outside the league at the moment:

Champions League – vs. Genk 11/5, vs. Napoli 11/27, @ RB Salzburg 12/10

FA Cup – draw has not yet taken place, first possible game 1/3

EFL Cup – @ Aston Villa 12/17 (quarterfinals), vs. TBD 1/7 or 8 and 1/28 or 29 (semifinals, if necessary)

Club World Cup – vs. TBD 12/18, vs. TBD 12/21 (competition takes place in Qatar)

Conflicts

As you can see above, the conflict presents itself between the Club World Cup and the EFL Cup match against Aston Villa. It would be impossible for the club to fulfill the schedule as currently constructed, playing at Aston Villa on December 17 and then flying to Qatar for its first Club World Cup match on December 18.

Rescheduling the EFL Cup match has been an absolute nightmare thanks to other conflicts as well, with Liverpool booked midweek for the next few months. Following the November international break, Liverpool has its Champions League game against Napoli on 11/27 followed by a pair of Premier League games against Bournemouth and Everton both scheduled for the next week. Liverpool then plays its final Champions League game against RB Salzburg on 12/10 before the Club World Cup trip the next week.

The festive period comes next with league games against Leicester City, Wolves, and Sheffield United through 1/2, and then the first leg of the EFL Cup semifinals are scheduled for the next week, leaving no time for the quarterfinal to be rescheduled anywhere in that span.

Possible solutions

“The discussion is obvious, that it is too much,” Klopp said on Friday. “It is absolutely obvious. Everyone involved in the game knows. Nobody wants to touch it, nobody really discusses about it. Then Uefa decides to make the Nations League, give the successful players a couple of more intense games.

“People then say you need a bigger squad. The game is not made for bigger squads. At the moment there is an imbalance between the number of players in the squad, the competitions you play and a big gap between the breaks the boys need. They have two weeks off a year, in a physically demanding game. The solutions, I think there are a few possible, but the leagues have to sit and really discuss and think about the players and maybe not their wallet. We discuss it always on the back of the money we earn. Somebody has to think about how many games.”

According to Dale Johnson of ESPN, the most likely solution would be to play the quarterfinal against Aston Villa on 1/7 and postponing the ensuing semifinal first leg originally scheduled for that day to a later date. However, even that presents potential conflicts as the next few weeks are reserved for FA Cup matches, and potential FA Cup third round (1/14) or fourth round (2/4) replays for either participant could cause further havoc.

Another potential solution could be to move the club’s Premier League game against Watford (originally scheduled for Saturday 12/14) to Friday 12/13 and playing the EFL Cup game against Aston Villa on Monday 12/15 before the club departs for Qatar. That would also require the Premier League to reschedule Aston Villa’s game against Sheffield United (originally scheduled for Saturday 12/14) to Friday 12/13 to accommodate the move.

Winter break

The danger of pushing games back as previously suggested presents itself as the club just pushes back the problem to a later and later date. Should the schedule conflicts continue to be shoved further down the calendar, the winter break comes into play. Liverpool is scheduled for a break between games on 2/8 and 2/22 as all Premier League clubs are this season with the league hoping to slowly build a stoppage into its schedule ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar that will require such a scheduling quirk.

Klopp has maintained that the club will not accommodate any alteration to its winter break, thereby subjecting it to a disadvantage to other clubs in the English top flight. This means any FA Cup or EFL Cup fixtures pushed back into February will have to be seriously postponed and could come up against other Cup fixtures or even Champions League knockout stage games.

Klopp’s threat

Could Liverpool really drop out of the EFL Cup altogether to alleviate their fixture congestion? It’s unlikely, and there is no precedent for such a drastic measure. Because the club has already entered the competition and begun play, dropping out would incur a hefty fine.

Manchester United pulled out of the FA Cup in the 1999/2000 season thanks in part to the FIFA Club World Championship, but that saw the club withdraw from the competition before play began, meaning they were not drawn into the competition and given fixture obligations.

Leaving the fixtures as they are and having Liverpool play a youth squad in the EFL Cup is also not an ideal option, Klopp said when asked about the possibility on Friday. “We have discussed it already and we have to because there’s not much time to make that decision,” Klopp said. “If we do play [the EFL Cup] while we are in Qatar, that will be two different teams. But we cannot leave any players at home for the Carabao Cup. We have two games in a busy period and it’s not like we can go there [Qatar] with 11 players. It doesn’t work like this. We have to make a decision but not yet.”

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Chelsea through to UCL knockouts

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle on Liverpool’s nervy 2-0 win against Red Bull Salzburg to take first place in Group E of the Champions League (1:55), Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Lille to secure a place in the Round of 16 (13:15) and who is the current favorite to win it all (20:45).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Plus, what Arsenal’s come-from-behind 3-1 win at West Ham means for both London clubs (29:10) and the Robbies discuss what they’re looking forward to most at the next Live Premier League Mornings Fan Fest in Miami Beach (46:05).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 16

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The Premier League didn’t issue too many surprises at the bottom of the table this week, but two top-tier sides didn’t behave as such and shook up our rankings.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Chelsea and Man City have dipped low, and Bournemouth’s skid doesn’t have it sinking lower (yet) because of the teams beneath it.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — Liverpool and Manchester United are next, and it’s looking a long way back to safety.
Last week: 20
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

19. Norwich City — Outshot, out-passed, our possessed Sheffield United at home and still lost. Bad vibes, man.
Last week: 18
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

18. West Ham United — Just feels like there’s something lurking below the surface here. Doesn’t smell right given the Irons talent.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-1 v. Arsenal
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Southampton

17. Bournemouth — Losing to Liverpool is no shame, but it’s almost officially time to worry.
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 3-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

16. Aston Villa — Tom Heaton is a heck of a goalkeeper but he can’t be expected to save four A-plus danger chances per game.
Last week: 14
Season high: 8
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 4-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

15. Southampton — West Ham and Villa back-to-back have to provide four points if Saints revival is to be believed.
Last week: 15
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Newcastle United
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham United

14. Everton — Duncan Ferguson gives the Toffees board reason enough to be patient with their managerial hire, and then Napoli goes and fires Carlo Ancelotti.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

13. Burnley — The defending against Spurs — we know, Spurs are good — was enough to drop them far lower than four spots. Abject stuff from a Sean Dyche side.
Last week: 9
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 5-0 at Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle

12. Arsenal — Freddie Ljungberg started Nicolas Pepe, and Nicholas Pepe was his best player. Stunning stuff, really. Look at the assist below.
Last week: 13
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 3-1 at West Ham
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City

11. Crystal Palace — I want to believe, but am holding out for something more. A derby win versus Brighton would suffice.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 0-0 at Watford
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Monday v. Brighton

10. Newcastle United — Again, Steve Bruce‘s men are getting tremendous Fortune and he’s pushing almost all the right buttons (It takes guts to start Andy Carroll over the struggling record signing Joelinton). This could be a sign of the Geordie Apocalypse.
Last week: 11
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

9. Sheffield United — A little wobbly lately, but still a good comeback at Carrow Road.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 10 a.m ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

8. Brighton and Hove Albion — Doesn’t it say something that a country who starves for young, strong English coaches had one sitting in Sweden for eight years? Graham Potter is legit.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

7. Chelsea — Some of those young guys who’ve played so well, so early, are looking a little ragged. It’s a shame Frank Lampard is still waiting on Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will really help things take another step.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

6. Manchester City — It probably has nothing to do with the system, and a lot to do with not having Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane… Still, it needs to be better than a home derby loss to a Paul Pogba-less United.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Arsenal

5. Tottenham Hotspur — We’re gonna need multiple screens on Sunday morning, as Wolves-Spurs and Man Utd-Everton are both must-monitor.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 5-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

4. Manchester United — Ole’s at the wheel, and still doesn’t feel like Lewis Hamilton or anything but we’re not worried about heading off a cliff.
Last week: 6
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-1 at Man City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

3. Wolves — Beat Spurs on Sunday and I’ll go ahead and bet on them as a Top Four finisher, even after the Brighton draw failed to deliver the goods.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Spurs

2. Leicester City — Wow.
Last week: 2
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 4-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Norwich City

1. Liverpool — Wow, only atop the table.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 3-0 at Bournemouth
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

Champions League Weds. preview: Two spots remain

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Only two spots remain in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, and those will be settled Wednesday afternoon.

In Group C, hosts Shakhtar Donetsk need to beat Atalanta to go through, while the visitors can also go through with a win if Dinamo Zagreb fails to defeat Man City.

[ MORE: Ancelotti reportedly speaking w/ Everton ]

In Group D, Atletico Madrid is through with a win over Lokomotiv Moscow, though Bayer Leverkusen can complete a remarkable comeback from an 0-3 start to the group stage if they beat already-qualified Juve and Atleti loses to their Russian visitors.

You certainly wouldn’t be against Diego Simeone there, though.

“Tomorrow is a great opportunity, every day that you wear the Atletico shirt is,” Simeone said, via Marca. “I believe in my team, in the humility that they have at the moment. The results will come based on what they are demonstrating on the field.”

Premier League sides Man City and Tottenham Hotspur both have their fortunes settled, with City having won Group C and Spurs settled into Group B’s second spot, but they still have plenty to figure out on Tuesday.

Jose Mourinho’s Spurs are going up against a Bayern team that walloped them at home, while City is living an unusual 2W-3D-2L lull in form.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action

12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb v. Man City

3 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Red Star Belgrade
Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur

Ancelotti fired by Napoli as Everton, Arsenal lurk

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Carlo Ancelotti won a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, then lost his job.

The Napoli’s boss strained relationship with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis came to a head, with the Neapolitan side advancing in Europe to end a nine-match winless run.

[ MORE: Sporting KC adds Liga MX top scorer ]

That run may’ve included seven draws, but it also saw Napoli dip into seventh on the Serie A table. They are seven points back of sixth and 17 points behind leaders Juventus.

A strained relationship got worse when Ancelotti refused to take the team on a De Laurentiis-ordered “team retreat” following a draw against Salzburg in early November.

Gennaro Gattuso is rumored as Ancelotti’s replacement, and the fired coach himself is being mentioned as an immediate target for Arsenal and Everton.

In fact, the Toffees are in discussions with the Italian legend already, according to Sky Sports. Football Italia claims Arsenal is in on the action, too.

Ancelotti has won the Champions League with AC Milan twice and a third time with Real Madrid. He’s claimed domestic titles in five of Europe’s top leagues, with silverware at Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid.